The true cost of perfectionism

Kasia Gospos

The last year of my work has been both beautiful, creative work and also a struggle. I finally completed the Mind By Design collection, after working with multiple experts on it before personally designing all the journals. But during this time, I also started experiencing more frequent floods of anxiety. I was working a lot but wasn’t seeing much progress. At times, it felt like if I could stop and do nothing I would still be in the same place as when I worked to my full capacity. Two steps forward, two steps back. And everything was happening so slow and taking longer than I expected!

New Year’s has been always a time of searching. Searching for new direction. New goals. Redesigning my life. There is a lot I love about my life, but a lot I want to change too! Late last year I signed up to a self-directed wellbeing course by Mindspot (it is free for Australian residents and I highly recommend it). One specific lesson on perfectionism spoke to me a lot. I didn’t realise I was a perfectionist until I learned what this word truly meant, and how high the price was I paid for it.

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Benefits of perfectionism

I have always felt that being a perfectionist is a good thing. Thanks to having high standards you get to enjoy rewards like:

  • Motivation and ambition
  • Productivity
  • High performance
  • Conscientiousness and discipline

However, I didn’t realise that having high standards and big expectations can have a very negative affect on my psychological health.

Costs of perfectionism

Perfectionism makes us vulnerable to experiencing a range of difficulties, such as stress, burnout, anxiety, depression, eating disorders and OCD. Perfectionism can come at an extremely high cost. The list of reasons why is quite long (source: mindspot.org.au):

Poorer physical and mental health

• Feeling immense pressure of high standards
• Higher levels of stress, anxiety and depression
• Overworking, not taking breaks, spreading ourselves too thin, burn out
• Relationship strain and social isolation
• Neglecting own needs – e.g. rest, eating well, social life, hobbies

Low self-esteem

• Self-worth being tied to performance and achievement
• Trying to live up to high standards
• Not feeling good enough
• Constantly comparing yourself to others and their performance
• Excessive self-criticism; mistakes seen as personal failure
• Disregarding efforts when things are not perfect
• Not acknowledging our strengths and value outside of achievement
• Reliant on feedback, reassurance and approval from others

Inflexibility and rigidity

• Fear of failures and mistakes
• Cannot tolerate imperfection
• Difficulties adapting when information or circumstances change
• Difficulties working in teams, collaborating or delegating work
• Taking the safe option – e.g. not trying new things, declining opportunities, giving up too soon, or doing things but not really trying

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Cost to time and productivity

• Extra time spent checking, rechecking, and overpreparing; working long hours
• Fixation on small details
• Indecisiveness, overthinking decisions, reassurance needed for decisions to be made
• Difficulty completing tasks in a timeframe; poor time management
• Procrastination, leaving tasks to the last minute
• Lower productivity over the long-term from not taking breaks or taking time off and burn out

Sadly, I ticked lots of boxes here. I had been specifically overworking, staying too long at my desk, not taking breaks, forgetting to drink water, even holding on a visit to the toilet until I really, really needed to go! I would work ’til the very last minute during the day until I literally had to run out the door to pick up my kids from childcare. And I was quite often the last parent there.

As a result, I also didn’t have time to exercise and the dog was robbed of his walking time. I didn’t allocate time to keep in regular contact with friends. The more things went wrong (even simple things like emails stopped working, or printer broke), the more I pushed and the more stressed I became. I was failing to meet deadlines, completely forgetting that the deadlines were set by myself and often unrealistic! And even though I have always thought of myself as a fairly confident person with strong self-belief, I realised this – it is all good when things go well in life, but once I experience failure, I would disregard all my efforts and take all the delays and challenges as my personal failures. It was all my fault.

Lastly, the big tick box here for me (the box I didn’t want to tick) was the cost of my perfectionism to productivity. Even though I felt I was so super organised, ticking my daily to-do lists and achieving a lot, I was actually spending way too much time on little things. Things like rechecking emails, picking the right shade of peach for our next planner cover, or (don’t laugh) spending a full day thinking about and testing if the lines in the lined notebook should be 0.1pt, 0.2pt or 0.25pt… and what shade of grey should they be? For most people this is hardly noticeable or they simply don’t care! (And maybe neither should I!) Overthinking and indecisiveness were probably the biggest costs to my perfectionism that led me to burn out.

The light way is the right way

I am a huge fan of Amber Rae’s work and I stumbled recently on this message from her – “the light way is the right way”. Amber shares, “when we look for the lighter path, it can help us navigate challenges with more grace, trust and inner peace”. When a project is feeling heavy, or you are procrastinating or overthinking, she suggests you tune inwards to the wisdom of your body. This message truly speaks to me and my inner perfectionist, so ‘Light’ became my theme word for the year, in which I will try to manage my perfectionism. Here is how I will use ‘Light’ as a reminder:

When facing with decisions or challenges I will ask myself:

How can I make it more light, easeful, more enjoyable?

Which option feels light? Which option feels expansive or more aligned? What feels right deep in my belly?

How can I bring more lightless to this situation?

How can I simplify?

My ‘Light’ theme word led me to tuning more into my intuition. You might have noticed I didn’t send a long customer survey this year. This year I decided to answer many of my questions by tuning into my inner voice. I decided that it is time to sunset our vertical planners to bring more light and simplicity to both the process of creating planners and your process of selecting the one that is right for you.

And, BIG news! I’ve also already decided on the 2024 collection and can’t wait to receive the samples. This typically in the past was quite a long process that involved lots of feedback searching and self-doubt.

Looking for the lighter path now doesn’t mean I neglect my work or that I am lazy. It means that I show up with more intuition, compassion, wisdom that is inside me and I love the entire process a whole lot more!

Now, I won’t send out another survey… but I would like to know:

Are you a perfectionist? Which toxic habits are you guilty of?

What will be your theme word for the year?

What will you do differently from now on?


Kasia GosposKasia Gospoś has been named one of Australia’s most inspirational women online by Open Colleges, and is a silver award winner of the Stevie Awards for Women in Business – Female Entrepreneur of the Year.

As the founder of LH Agenda, an online community and stationery brand created to empower leaders to make their mark on the world, Kasia is an advocate for the rising powerful woman and the young leaders of tomorrow.

She grew up in communist Poland, where she studied Finance and Banking, going on to work as a commercial analyst, management accountant (ACMA), and project management professional. She founded LH Agenda after observing women struggle with confidence in the workplace and wanting to be part of the solution.

LH Agenda self-coaching journals, planners, and office essentials encourage leadership, daily success habits, goal-kicking, passion and motivation, with elegant designs that can be personalised.

Kasia lives in Newcastle with her business partner and husband Nino, 2 boys and the family corgi, Happy. She loves listening to R&B, playing tennis and golf and exploring the latest design trends.